First Gold Discovery
Australia’s first gold discovery at Ophir near Orange
Several people had found gold in New South Wales before the success claimed by E.H. Hargraves. They included a shepherd named McGregor who resided in the Wellington district, Assistant Surveyor J W.B. Clarke, and Count Strzelecki the Polish explorer.
The authorities took no action about these finds because gold had not been a desirable product in a convict colony. In 1851 it was wanted to offset the attractions of California which was taking migrants from New South Wales and partly because the cessation of transportation had encouraged entrepreneurs to look more favourably on the colony.
This created a need for new capital sources. News of the gold strike by Hargraves in 1851 did not break suddenly.
At first, there were only rumours but these gathered strength and were finally verified. Many people were sceptical about the alleged benefits of the find but their fears about labour shortages and rising wages were swept aside as men of all ranks realised that they might win riches at the diggings far beyond what they could earn at their normal occupations.
The rush started and Bathurst was the destination of the hordes that streamed towards Ophir. The story of gold discovery first appeared in the “Bathurst Free Press” and then the”Sydney Morning Herald” and it contains a reference to John Lister who was one of Hargraves’ assistants that he recruited at Guyong, about half way between Bathurst and Orange. The others were James and William Tom.
When Hargraves was acknowledged as the discoverer of payable gold in New Wales by the government, Lister and the Toms began a long agitation to correct an injustice. They claimed to have found gold in payable quantities after Hargraves had temporarily retired from the search because he had achieved only disappointing results at his first try in February 1851. Their find was made on April 7 when Hargraves was at his home in Gosford. They notified Hargraves who returned bringing with him the Government Geologist, Samuel Stutchbury. In Stutchbury’s presence, Hargraves panned gold at Yorkey’s Corner on Lewis Ponds Creek the site that Lister and the Toms had indicated Stutchbury thereupon reported to his superiors in Sydney that Hargraves had found payable gold and on that statement, he was acknowledged by the government.
In 1895 an inquiry was conducted by a committee of the New South Wales Legislative Assembly, to investigate the Lister and Tom complaint. Its decision was in their favour. Ironically, John Lister died on the day that he was to give evidence but his widow received his share of the money that was subsequently paid as compensation. It was little, however, only £1,000 to be shared by her and the Tom brothers.